Lisa Mitchell

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the art of incubating, the defeat of procrastination

Lisa Mitchell | Apr 11, 2013 | 3 comments

On Monday, I found an abandoned goose egg.  None of the squawking sentinels at the pond beat their wings aggressively when I reached down to rescue the egg from its poor excuse of a nest on in the sand.  That’s how I know it was abandoned.   It’s big and beautiful.  For the rest of my walk, I began to hatch plans to borrow a friend’s dremel tool and use the egg to make these really cool oval frames I’d seen at a recent craft fair.  My daughter and husband had different plans for the egg.  Into their makeshift incubator the egg went.

 

On Tuesday, I found another abandoned goose egg.  Once again, no dog sized bird came a-claimin’.  This time it was at the water’s edge–too cold for any sweet pre-baby to be happy.  But, into the “incubator” it went.

 

Monday’s egg represents incubation.  Tuesday’s egg represents procrastination.  Same object, same symbol, probably same goose mama—yet I have a totally different relationship with each.

 

To recognize the difference between incubation and procrastination is the key to beginning any creative endeavor.  It is crucial to be able to identify when you are hanging out waiting for things to hatch (incubation) and when you are pretending to hang out and wait, but are actually avoiding something or creating resistance (procrastination).  Without this ability to differentiate, the artist (therapist) becomes ineffective, off-kilter, unproductive, and downright mean to herself.

 

Let’s get back to the maybe-goslings in the homemade incubator nestled quietly in our spare bedroom.  (It’s just a dish towel lined shoe box with a desk lamp for a heater.) When I pick up Monday, I feel a sense of wonder and hope.  My daughter tells me that there is an ever expanding “dark spot” that she can see when she shines a flashlight on the egg.  I feel giddy with anticipation.  I formulate images of a teensy goose beak poking out of its newly broken egg.  I am content in waiting because the overwhelming feeling is positive.  Either way, if Monday turns into a goose or an art project, I will feel this time has been valuable.

 

When I pick up Tuesday, it’s a whole different ball game.  I feel dread and heaviness.  My daughter says that there is no “dark spot” that she can see with her flashlight, but she reminds me that this was true with Monday for a little while too.  She remains hopeful, but I don’t have good images for Tuesday.  Mostly there are thoughts that involve how badly Tuesday will smell if I ever decide to use that dremel tool to make those oval frames.  Slow cooking in that incubator could lead to a bad outcome.

 

So the difference in my relationship with Monday and Tuesday, incubation and procrastination, has to do with the emotional tone.   Incubation is hopeful, curious, pregnant with possibility.  Procrastination is lethargic, avoidant, heavy with dread.  Incubation is part of the process, procrastination just stops the process.

 

When we apply this to the art of doing therapy, I like to use worry as a gauge.   The presence of worry alone is not a good gauge (we all worry about our clients on occasion).  But the presence of worry to the extent to which it becomes a sleep interrupting preoccupation or the gracious host for our inner critic’s rants on inadequacy is a very good gauge.  If you pick up this egg (or think about this client), and you notice that worry is a large part of your relationship, you are procrastinating.  This also means that you are NOT being creative.  You are blocked.  Stuck.  Destined to go round and round until nothing happens…….

 

If, on the other hand, your worry gauge is at small or unnoticeable levels when you think about a client, you might be incubating.  If you feel curious and willing to hang out long enough to witness an outcome or see the next step, you are definitely incubating.

 

Incubating requires a soft, subtle holding environment.  You have to be nice to yourself and to your client and allow space for incubation to happen.  You can’t force things to happen, you can’t wish them to happen, you just allow.  If you rush it, or confront your client prematurely, the whole process can come to a screeching halt.  Incubation requires enthusiastic patience and trust in the process.  It is knowing that things are happening that can’t be readily seen, and waiting for the magical hatching moment.  While you want to remain in this incubating state for as long as it is productive, you want to get out of procrastination as fast as possible.

 

To stop procrastination you need a concrete and active plan.  It requires discipline of a more structured kind.  Procrastination’s mere presence is a message that you and/or your client is not facing something that requires action, acknowledgement, or planning.  While required action can be loving, compassionate, caring (it doesn’t have to be mean or critical) it cannot be postponed.  Procrastination feeds on inaction.   And, in therapy, inaction because of procrastination results in stuck therapeutic alliances and poor outcomes.

 

Monday and I are cool for now.  I’m going to continue with my incubating in that relationship.

 

But Tuesday and I need to get unstuck.  I think I will go back to the incubator and try to trade my dread of the rotten egg smell to watching for other potential.  If not a gosling or set of oval frames, then what?  Surely, in our incubating state, Tuesday and I will welcome something that hatches!!

 

Is there a client with whom you need to stop procrastinating and take action?  Can you return to the relationship and start to identify what it is that needs to hatch?  Maybe there is something you need to say or do that could be risky?  The moment you shift from procrastination to action, avoiding something to facing it, you and your client get unstuck and the creativity can flow.

 

I’ll let you know in about 3 weeks how the egg story ends.  Let me know how your story goes?  (Scroll on down, way down to the bottom of the page where you will see the “comment” box.  It’s there just waiting for you!)

3 responses to “the art of incubating, the defeat of procrastination”

  1. Nickie says:

    Very helpful article. I loved the diefferentiation of the distinction betw incubating and hopefulness vs. procrastination and dread.

  2. Kimberly Wallace says:

    I really connected with this after attending your class last week. I am connecting more creatively with myself and my art as a therapist.

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